In the initial period of White second-wave feminism, some lesbians reacted against prior negative images in a manner that has had the unin­tended consequences of referring back to the lesbian/woman as impotent trope. This seems to underscore my contention that the current discourse allows women to be good only when they are nonsexual, regardless of sexual object choice.

In the middle and late 1970s, the concept of the woman-loving – woman arose from a discourse among and between lesbians who were often middle class, newly self-defined as lesbian, and whose primary attachment to lesbianism could at times be described as political rather than erotic. This concept described lesbian sexuality as a gentle, nurturing, egalitarian, nonoppressive exchange between women. Desire, passion, intensity, pen­etration, and anything resembling butch and femme modes of sexual re­lating, became suspect, the bad old ways, and male-identified. (This last equation of passion with the presence of a male was another inadvertent bow to the cultural norms.) Sexual difficulties and dysfunctions were im­possible because, in this version of the social discourse, merely making love to another woman was a curative; women knew what women wanted, and were presumed to be present for one another sexually in ways that no man could (Brown, 1986). With the emphasis on egalitarian modes of sexual relating, sexual practices that included penetration became stigmatized; any hint of power imbalance between sexual partners, however temporary, or indeed of any form of sexual power and agency at all was defined in this discourse on sexuality as oppressive (Bright, 1990; Nichols, 1987a, 1987b).

Nichols (1987a) describes, only slightly humorously, the image of po­litically correct lesbian lovemaking as, “Two women lie side by side (tops or bottoms are strictly forbidden—lesbians must be non-hierarchical); they touch each other gently and sweetly all over their bodies for several hours… If the women have orgasms at all—and orgasms are only marginally acceptable… both orgasms must occur at exactly the same time in order to foster true equality and egalitarianism” (pp. 97-98). Lesbian sexuality thus becomes desexualized, with any hint of negative or powerful images or behaviors banished. A lesbian was no longer necessarily a woman who made love to other women, but a woman who “put her entire energy” into other women, whatever that may mean. She was a good woman, and she was not a sexual being.

This construction, emerging in reaction to the heterosexist killer dyke imagery, was thus tied to it irrevocably, and served, perversely, to reinforce images of lesbian and women’s sexuality as asexual, impotent, and inferior to that occurring in the presence of a man, if the women were not to be defined as dangerous and bad. This particular image of lesbian sexuality, despite its invention by women, remained mired in heterosexist conven­tions by finding no place for a celebratory and positive vision of women’s sexual power and agency. Lesbians were here defined from within as chaste, virgins, and spinsters (Daly, 1978), images yet again of sexual impotency and invisibility, but valorized as woman-oriented ones by some lesbian thinkers and writers.

Thus, initially, the feminist discourse on lesbianism began to parallel the heterosexist and sexist discourse on women; a good woman was a sex­ually invisible or impotent one. A politically correct image of lesbian sex­uality emerged, a reversion to the image of female impotence that was the opposite pole to the text of female sexual dangerousness previously ascribed to visible lesbians (Califia, 1983; Hollibaugh &. Moraga, 1981). This ide­alized image of lesbian sexuality that arose from the first decade of lesbian feminism functioned partially as a curative against the overtly negative constructs of lesbian sexuality that had previously pervaded both words and images; the sexually impotent woman was, at least, a sexually good woman. This sexually impotent lesbian could be publicly visible and claim the rights and protections available to other good women. Her image con­tained a pleading to be treated fairly because, being desexualized, she was good and not the dangerous visible lesbian of the past.